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One rookie mistake is just one too many

Sebastien Bourdais, dominant in qualifying, finishes 11th.

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 24, 2003


ST. PETERSBURG -- Based on his on-track actions and off-track poise leading to Sunday's Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, everything about Sebastien Bourdais suggested he was a veteran.

Until he made a rookie mistake.

Bourdais' attempt to become the first driver in CART's Champ Car series since Nigel Mansell in 1993 to win a pole and race in his first event ended after a brush of the wall on Lap 35.

"It was a positive weekend even if the result wasn't there," the Frenchman said after finishing 11th. "But I'm disappointed because I made the mistake."

Bourdais, who turns 24 Friday, avoided trouble on the start and was dominant through the first 30 laps.

"After the first three or four corners, I knew that I wasn't going to get him," said Paul Tracy, who started second and won. "I just basically stayed behind him."

But in a 105-lap race that lasts two hours, Tracy added, that sort of early dominance often proves irrelevant.

"When you've got to do it for two hours, it's a different story," Tracy said. "I'm experienced. I've done these races hundreds of times. You learn when to go fast and when not to go fast."

Bourdais' troubles began as he exited pit road on Lap 30. Tracy and Patrick Carpentier, who were more than 10 seconds behind Bourdais when he pitted, were at full speed when they blew past him on the straightaway between Turns 3 and 4.

With Bourdais on cold tires covered with debris picked up on his way out of the pits, the two Team Player's drivers opened up a sizable lead on Bourdais' No. 2Lola/Ford-Cosworth.

Tracy led the final 71 laps.

"I restarted in a really bad gap, in the middle of the fight between Carpentier and Tracy," Bourdais said.

"I didn't want to lose the pace. I was a little bit upset with that and just lost a bit of calm. That's it. It's really hard (to stay calm) when you see that you'rethree seconds out."

His brush with the wall on Lap 35 flattened the left rear tire and severely damaged the wheel, forcing Bourdais back to pit road, where he sat for eight laps.

"He rocketed out of the pits right in front of me," Tracy said. "I got him on the next straightaway. Then it was maybe two or three laps later that they radioed and told me that he had brushed the wall and did some damage.

"From there we were kind of in control of the race. I just had to pace myself and not make any mistakes."

Despite the undesirable result, the weekend wasn't a total loss for Bourdais or his Newman/Haas team. Teammate Bruno Junqueira started seventh and finished third to earn 14 championship points.

Bourdais, whose 105.161 mph lap on Lap 29 was the race's quickest, earned two points for winning the pole and two more for finishing 11th. He is 10th in the standings.

"I thought it was really possible to win the race," Bourdais said. "I think we will have a lot of weekends like this. It's 18 races before the end now and we'll just have to improve yet again in the next race."

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